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The secret to longevity: Wine and radioactivity

Posting in Cancer

In Ikaria, you can sleep until the crack of noon, and bathe in the radon.

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The people on the Greek island of Ikaria live 10 years longer than other westerners. Most ninety-year-olds are sexually active there. Opa! Is it the water or the wine?

It's possibly both.

Stamatis Moraitis, who's 98-years-young, opts for the wine explanation.

Not any wine, though. He likes the local stuff.

Speaking to the BBC, the Ikarian attributes longevity to the unadulterated vino he and his fellow islanders produce. "The wine they make commercially has preservatives," he says. "That's no good. But this wine we make ourselves is pure."

He'd have as good a sense for the answer as anyone. Moraitis used to live in the U.S. He returned to his native land to die 45 years ago after American doctors diagnosed terminal lung cancer and gave him 9 months to live.

The wine has certainly done him no harm.

What about the water? Ikaria, off the coast of Turkey, is known for hot springs. Many people associate thermal baths with health benefits, but there's an unusual quality that might be making Ikaria's wet stuff the elixir of life: it's radioactive.

ROCK ON!

A story a few years ago on CNN noted that the hot baths have a high level of radon, a radioactive gas routinely associated with granite.

While the idea of radon generally triggers health scares for the public, at the time of the story experts were heading to Ikaria to determine whether the radon there was actually contributing to longer life spans - and, as CNN suggested, to the nonagenarian sexual romps (for the record, the subject did not come up in the BBC story).

Likewise, the BBC notes that the secret to Ikarian health "could even be the natural radiation in the granite rocks."

There are other possible factors on the island like, the unavoidable steep terrain that imposes daily exercise on anyone who steps foot outside their abode. There's plenty of  fresh air and olive oil too.

There's also a decided lack of stress, as people go to bed after midnight, sleep late, and take naps. Which raises the philosophical question: Are they really Westerners?  Plunge into a soothing radon bath and ponder the answer.

Photo of Ikaria from Man77 via Wikimedia. "Crack of noon" quip borrowed from Tom Waits.

Some solid granite on SmartPlanet:

— By on January 6, 2013, 8:44 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure